And the senior Conservative expressed concern about plans in the Conservative general election manifesto to change how the UK’s £13 billion annual aid budget is spent.
Prime Minister Theresa May has ruled that two ministers in the Department for International Development should report to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as well as to Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary.
It’s been seen as a partial victory for Mr Johnson, who had been pushing for control of aid spending, although he reportedly wanted the Prime Minister to go further and merge the two departments.
Mr Mitchell, MP for Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham and a former Conservative chief whip, compared Mr Johnson to a pirate.
Speaking in the House of Commons, he said: “There is some concern in the development community about the apparent double-hatting of Foreign Office Ministers to cover the Department for International Development.
"If I may use a swashbuckling analogy that might appeal to the Foreign Secretary, there is some fear that his eye has alighted on a plump galleon loaded with bullion and that he wishes to board that galleon and plunder her cargo.”
And he also warned against changing the rules governing how aid is spent, saying: “The rules governing the spending of British aid are clearly laid down by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) development assistance committee. I think that those rules can be improved, but I do not believe that this House would agree to their being unilaterally abandoned by the United Kingdom.”
Mr Mitchell urged Mrs May to ignore critics of foreign aid, saying it would help the UK maintain influence across the world after Brexit.
He said: “Our international development work is saving millions of lives and transforms the way in which millions of the world’s poorest live.
“This British leadership is respected throughout the world, if not in certain quarters of the British press.
“I urge Ministers to stand up for the brilliant work being done by Britain, and not to cower under the table in the face of the onslaught of the Daily Mail. Of course Britain does not give bilateral money to North Korea, but as part of the United Nations we do try to stop North Korean children starving to death.”
The Conservative general election manifesto included a commitment to continue with the current policy of spending at least 0.7 per cent of national income on aid, but said the way aid is defined would be changed.
Ministers are reported to believe that some overseas work which is not currently counted as international development should be included in the definition.
The manifesto said: “There are still ways that we can improve the way that taxpayers’ money is used to help the world’s most vulnerable people. We do not believe that international definitions of development assistance always help in determining how money should be spent, on whom and for what purpose.
“So we will work with like-minded countries to change the rules so that they are updated and better reflect the breadth of our assistance around the world.
“If that does not work, we will change the law to allow us to use a better definition of development spending, while continuing to meet our 0.7 per cent target.”